is a book about
in which God is our
Themes of the Book
The name of the book, in Greek, means “departure” (i.e., the departure of the Jews from Egypt). The Exodus is the ultimate example of God as Savior in the Old Testament. However, the book also deals with broader themes of how God deals with us as humans and as nations. Joseph Parker points out that there is “no phase of divine providence that is not found in the Book of Exodus, at least in germinal form.”1
Genesis shows God’s faithfulness to his Creation and his covenant family. The Exodus story shows the covenant family emerge as a nation, and shares how God interacts with people in leading them to repentance and mission. “Creation gives way to providence.”2
The Exodus: A Planned Response?
The Exodus is first mentioned to Abraham in Genesis 14, so God anticipated it for centuries. Joseph also prophesied about it when he commanded his family to bring up his bones out of Egypt (Gen. 50:25). Exodus 2:24 hearkens to the covenant as the reason for the Exodus itself.
Although the event is prophesied, God also responds to a suffering people. “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (2:23-25, also 3:7-9, 6:5) He also makes promises that apply more widely to all humanity (22:22-24). Revival and judgment are often preceded by injustice and outcry.
The God of the Exodus
A new name for God in this book is “I AM” (6:3) God says that he will make a name for himself.3 The double meaning is that he will make himself famous, as well as show us his true character. His true character is not grounded in any verbal expression or formula, but in his action on behalf of Israel. G. Campbell Morgan wrote that we interpret God’s character through our story.
The Exodus not only saved the people, but it established Israel as a nation. The family of Jacob went down to Egypt as a family, and came up as a nation.
Echoes of the Exodus
The Exodus echoes throughout Scripture, because salvation is demonstrated in the Exodus. The Passover is commanded as a way of commemorating “what the Lord did” (13:8). The Exodus is prophesied three times in the Book of Genesis, and it is remembered in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Psalms, all of the Major Prophets, Hosea, Amos, Haggai, Micah, Zechariah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews and Jude.4 Under the Old Covenant, this event is the ultimate example of God’s intervention.
The Exodus also reverberates throughout the land—it does not just affect Israel. God promises that not only Israel but Egypt will know that he is the Lord (7:5; 14:4, 18); Egyptians leave their land in the “mixed multitude” (12:38); Jethro hears about it in Midian and worships the Lord (18:1-12); Rahab hears about it in Jericho and confesses that the Lord is God (Josh. 2:8-11); Balak knows about it in Moab (Num. 22-24). God describes the news of Israel’s emergence as reaching the entire known world (Dt. 2:25, also Ex. 15:14-16, Num. 14:15). Thus God glorifies himself among all nations through his work of salvation and the people he has saved.
Passover in the New Testament
The Exodus has to be remembered. It represents God’s saving power, and thus is the first feast or special day commanded by God to the new nation of Israel. Since the Last Supper of our Lord was itself a Passover meal, and his resurrection and Pentecost coincided with the other Jewish feasts, there is an obvious call-and-answer from Old Testament to New Testament. With Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus spoke of the “exodus” he would accomplish at Jerusalem, which answers to the first Exodus (Luke 9:31); and the new commands to remember his death through bread and wine answer to the old commands to remember the Exodus through the Passover meal (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
Moses and Pharaoh
Moses and Pharaoh demonstrate eternal principles in their divergence. Moses’ calling comes of risk and curiosity. Moses hesitates repeatedly to follow God’s call (Ex. 3-4) but grows into obedience to God’s calling voice—though that voice is not always gentle (4:24-26)!
Pharaoh shows weakness in his concessions, but he becomes hardened. Just as Moses is softened repeatedly, Pharaoh is hardened repeatedly. The plagues serve to test Pharaoh’s resolve; does he really care about what God cares about? Or does he concede only because it benefits him (that is, by ending the plagues)?
Miracles are not a solution for spiritual hardness in the book of Exodus. This is seen both in Pharaoh’s life, and in the life of Israel herself; the book’s conclusion says that the miraculous pillars of fire and cloud were seen daily and publicly by all Israel (40:38, 33:8-10), but witnessing these stupendous miracles was not a sound basis for faithfulness (Num. 14:20-23).
The Role of Moses: Mediation
God shows that he does not prefer mediation; he always prefers to deal with his people in the most personal way. But he accepts it as a “second best” more than once in the Book of Exodus. First, God allows Aaron to speak for Moses, although he was angry at Moses’ unwillingness to speak (4:10-16, 27-30). Later, God commanded the people to be consecrated to that he could speak to them (19:10-11). Sadly, they were too afraid to face God on the mountain, so God concedes to mediating through Moses and other priests and prophets (20:18-22, recalled in Dt. 5:1-5, 18:15-19).
The priesthood is commanded in Exodus 29 as a concession until the day when God would providentially lead his people to the understanding that they could approach him at any time through his Son (1 Tim. 2:5).
Throughout the book, the Israelites are overdependent on their powerful, God-given leaders.5 There is no leader in the Old Testament that has more divine attestation than Moses (Ex. 19:9, etc.). Over and over we read that they obeyed “as the Lord commanded Moses,” but what did the Lord command them?
God wanted to guide the people into personal participation; giving was an important way of encouraging this and allowing the people to be involved in the ministry (Ex. 36-38).
Moses’ Intercession and God’s Decrees
Intercession is a two-way street for Moses; it is much more than just idle begging. Twice in the Pentateuch, God tells Moses that he will destroy Israel, but Moses intercedes to the utmost for his nation (Ex. 32-34, Num. 14). After they sin by worshipping the golden calf, Moses offers himself up in exchange for the lives of his people, something that Brother Andrew6 points out is only done by two people in the entire Bible: Paul (Rom. 9:1-5) and Moses7 (Ex. 32:32). They both embody the character of Jesus who intercedes for us in heaven, and who, Alexander Whyte says, “was blotted out of God’s book for us.”8
When Moses reaches this height of intercession, God begins to explain his decrees, laws that cannot be changed. First, God gives Moses the decree of judgment on sin: “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book” (32:33). God can do anything, but he will not ignore sin in his divine economy.
The second decree God gives is the decree of divine mercy: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (33:19). God may grant mercy on sinners, but only he may set the conditions for this mercy. No one may force his hand.9
These decrees cannot be changed because they are founded on who God is. But within the range of these two decrees, like Moses, we can offer all that we are in intercession.
Law and Covenant: Where God Can Dwell
Law is only a small section of the book; art and atmosphere are a much larger section. These were for the people’s sake and not for God’s. God repeatedly directs Moses to make the articles of worship, not as he is told, but as was “shown” to him (25:9)
Art is legitimized in the tabernacle by the Spirit-anointed work of Bezalel, Oholiab, and others (36:2). Their work required the Holy Spirit, showing that we need God’s Spirit in every field of work, not just in those that are directly spiritual.
God brought the seed of Abraham out of Egypt that he “might dwell among them” (29:46). “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Ex. 29:45). This far-off ideal is referenced dozens of times in both Testaments and is finally consummated in the Book of the Revelation (Rev. 21:3).
Terence Fretheim’s commentary on in the Interpretation series is thoughtful, readable, and explores many dimensions of the book from the standpoint of biblical theology. This book has the right amount of detail for any student of the Word who wants to meditate verse by verse on the text itself—without getting lost in the trivial.
Joseph Parker’s preaching in The People’s Bible deals with Exodus from a bird’s eye view. He deals with the book not exegetically but thematically and creatively.
1 Exodus, vol. 2 of The People’s Bible. Kindle edition.
2 Alexander Patterson, The Greater Life and Work of Christ.
3 Deuteronomy 4:35, 2 Samuel 7:23, Isaiah 63:11-14, Daniel 9:15, John 17:6, 26
4 Joel (1:4), Habakkuk (3:8, 15) and Revelation (15:1) also appear to include allusions to the events of Exodus but not direct references. Here is an incomplete list of direct references to the Lord bringing his people out of Egypt:
Gen. 15:13-16, 47:30, 50:25, Lev. 11:44-45, 26:45, Num. 15:41, 20:16, 22:21, Dt. 1:30-31, 6:20-24, 7:8, 7:17-19, 8:14, 9:26-29, 13:5, 20:1, 24:18, 22, Josh. 2:8-11, 4:23-24, 24:5-7, Jdg. 2:1, 11-12, Neh. 9:9-12, 1 Sam. 4:8, 6:6, 8:8, 10:18, 12:6-8, 2 Sam. 7:23-24, 1 Kings 8:51-53, 2 Kings 17:7, 1 Chron. 17:21, 2 Chron. 5:10, 6:5, Ps. 78:12-13, 105:26-45, 106:6-23, 114:1-5, 136:10-15, Isaiah 51:10-11, 15, Jer. 32:20-21, Ezek. 20:33-38, Dan. 9:15, Hos. 2:15, 11:1-4, 12:9, 13, 13:4, Amos 2:10, 3:1, 9:7, Hag. 2:5, Micah 6:3-4, 7:15, Zech. 10:10-11, Acts 7:40, 1 Cor. 10:1, Heb. 11:29, Jude 1:5.
5 The battle against Amalek in ch. 17 can be interpreted as involving leadership dependence. There is no indication in the story either that Moses was praying or that it was a miracle granted by God; it simply says that they lost when Moses did not have the rod of God raised up.
6 Along with many others, of course.
7 I hope to write more about this in a project called Revival and Romans 9. It is sad that we spend so much time discussing predestination but no one wants to emulate the bold prayers of Paul and Moses.
8 “Moses the Type of Christ.” Concise Bible Characters.
9 This seems to be an important point in Romans 9, which of course references this decree.